Yuan Zhen's body was now encased in green light that was blanketed by blue-green mist. His black hairs levitated above his head while wretch energy poured into his body.
As for the mist, only a small portion of it remained on and around his person. Most of it had entered into the earth, reaching almost a hundred meters underground and connecting with a spiritual vein.
This vein was what caused the unnatural concentration of wretch energy in the inner region. There were many circumstances which could lead to such a thing occurring, however not all of them would have a result quite like the inner region.
In Yuan Zhen's past life, he had pondered the very secret behind the seemingly unending wretch energy. In a brief visit to the core region, he discovered records that he perused and subsequently burned.
He also found that, despite his best efforts, he couldn't soak in and absorb wretch energy like the bane-devils did.
There was a restriction that forced wretch energy out of his channels the moment it entered. If he had been able to find an alternative in his past life, he would have surely grown far stronger.
Now, he had found such an alternative.
With the Ghost-Devouring Soul Art, he could not only consume souls but soul energy.
Now, a person might question the similarities between soul energy and wretch energy. Well, such a person would surely be entirely ignorant of certain secrets and would only be wasting their breath.
For, in his previous investigation, Yuan Zhen had unearthed a secret so mighty that he hadn't shared it with anyone at all. Despite that, Jin Yuan had known about it which could only mean he had gathered his own information.
As for what that secret was, Yuan Zhen shuddered as the thought of those records resurfaced. The aged image of murals on the walls depicted a history hand-written by the past victors. Yuan Zhen was thankful he had destroyed the evidence, for he was fearful of others finding out.
Many years ago, experts of both the beast and bane-devil races had fought together against a common enemy. The land which had been known as Bane-devil Grotto was previously known as the Infallible Race Empire.
This 'empire' was made up of a number of elite individuals from every race present in the realms. Beasts, humans, bane-devils, devil-demons, hellions and even the fabled 'sky race.' Under one flag, they proclaimed themselves to be the "infallible race" and were steadily growing in strength.
However, to the leading figures of those races, this Infallible Race Empire was an abomination. An alliance was forged in what was the quickest of conferences, then the races marched. Converging on one location- the Golden Purgatory Realm- leaders of every race gathered.
They attacked the Infallible Race Empire, led by an elder of the sky race, and decimated the land and its experts. As for the Infallible Race Empress, a Hell-Spawn of great strength, she was dealt with by the sky race elder.
By the end of the battle, the Infallible Race Empress was slain. By relying on his profound techniques, the sky race elder saturated the land with the Empress' energy and even buried her beneath it.
Yuan Zhen believed that the Infallible Race Empress' corpse was the reason behind the wretch energy. For such a powerful Hell-Spawn, it would not be impossible.
With the aquamarine mist of the Ghost-Devouring Soul Art, Yuan Zhen connected with the wretch energy source of the inner region. As he did so, he was simultaneously absorbing wretch energy and pouring it into his core.
Splitting his concentration, he refined the soul energy and wretch energy that had yet to break down. As he did so, his own soul's power increased. This allowed him to send the mist further and further into the wretch energy vein.
He continued further and further, reaching an even larger and more potent source of energy. This energy was largely different from the wretch energy, and he could tell that the mist had begun to approach the main source of wretch energy in the Grotto.
In that instant, a wave of hostile soul power slammed into the mist. Of course, the Ghost-Devouring Soul Art was the bane of souls, and thus that soul power was eaten instantly.
Yuan Zhen snorted coldly, flicking his wrist. The mist was now within the space of a wide underground river of red, orange and black waters. Submerged deep in that underground river was a motionless corpse.
Using the mist as a proxy for his soul's perception, he could 'see' that this corpse was not a woman's.
Despite that, it was the sole source of the orange energy. Without further delay, he sent the mist into that corpse to devour whatever remnant soul energy was in it.
In doing so, he drew the rest of the orange energy into his core as well. As soon as the energies were sucked out of it, the corpse withered and disappeared. So, too, did the orange energy gradually fade from the river.
Yuan Zhen then sent the mist a bit further, but was unable to find anything after almost two hours.
He gave up, deciding to digest his current gains and try again once he entered the core region. The aquamarine mist slowly rose up from the earth and returned to his eyes.
Once he was finished reigning it in, he got a sense of his surroundings and then picked Qi Zixie up from where he had left her.
When he was about to pick her up, he saw that a tiny amount of green energy had been drawn to her forehead where it gathered into an orb. This wasn't so surprising, as entering into Soul Nourishing realm meant that the soul was constantly absorbing external energy.
He allowed her to bask in it for a while, but soon felt something was odd. All of the green wretch energy in the pit had vanished, but wretch energy was still coming to gather in that orb.
As sudden as a bolt of lightning, red energy burst forth from the energy vein and began to overpower the green energy. The orb of green was now entirely red, and as large as a baby's fist.
Yuan Zhen could feel the aura of that red energy, and he recognized it as the very red energy that was present in the underground river.
It seemed that he had largely underestimated Qi Zixie's soul. Her ascent into Soul Nourishing was nothing short of unorthodox and thus highly unprecedented.
It had to be known that Yuan Zhen's soul, at this point, was on par with someone at the very peak of the Origin Evolving Realm. Thanks to the Ghost-Devouring Soul Art, he would be completely unharmed by anyone below the Immortal Spirit Realm.
Even so, he was unable to stretch his perception far enough to reach the source of the red energy. For her soul to be able to do this meant that it was, at the very least, equivalent in power to someone at the Immortal Spirit Realm.
He kept watching as all of that wretch energy kept concentrating into an orb that never grew in size. Her soul was compressing it, forcing the quality to increase.
As Yuan Zhen watched with wide eyes, the skin between Qi Zixie's eyes was ripped open from the inside. Out of her head arose a tiny blue speck, like dust. It approached the orb of red wretch energy and then entered straightway into it.
Once again, the color of the orb changed. It became an azure ball of pure energy and very soon began to chill the world around it. Ice formed around it, increasing its size by over ten times.
After that, nothing happened. Yuan Zhen looked from the orb to the cut on her forehead, wondering if it was supposed to enter that tiny hole.
As he began to ponder if he should give it a push, tendrils of dense blue light shone from her forehead, encasing the orb in its grasp. As the same time, the orb and the ice around it were being broken down further.
The essence of essences, the most quintessential form of energy, flowed toward the light.
Just like that, the orb faded away as the energy left it.
Yuan Zhen was perplexed by this. He knew that her soul was special, but with each passing moment he realized that 'special' was an oversimplification. Her soul was extraordinarily unique.
At this point, Yuan Zhen could tell that she was undergoing the final stages of entering the first stage of Soul Nourishing. Her soul would now begin to enter a state of constant 'digestion.' It would not only be working to break down the energy it had just taken in, but any other suitable energy it came across.
This was a period of utmost importance. This would indirectly determine the potential of the Immortal Spirit.
Yuan Zhen finally picked her up and began to walk toward the core region. There were no longer any bane-devils that would dare to attack them.
As for the green wretch energy, it was becoming more and more scarce. With the removal of the orange and red sources, other diverging branches of energy would wane.
However, there was an unexpected change. The green wretch energy seemed to have come to life and become capable of sustaining itself. It severed the ties with the source of energy, then attempted to break away on its own.
Seeing this, Yuan Zhen didn't really care that much. All of the remaining wretch energy rose up from the piles and came together to form one body. This body was just like a bane-devil, a spirit lifeform.
As he continued being largely disinterested, he realized that Qi Zixie's soul was preparing to snatch that wretch energy. That was when he felt something was off.
Her soul went straight for the red energy before, which was of a much higher quality. Why would it go for this wretch energy lifeform?
He casually brought out the mist, thinking he would be able to easily subdue and probe the newborn entity.
That was when Yuan Zhen became terrified. Not because he felt he was in danger, but because he was losing out on immense fortune.
This is where the fundamentals of energy, spiritual and otherwise, come into play.
Any energy, despite its nature, comes from both life and death, yin and yang. The yin and yang, the balance between life and death and all things in between, is birthed from chaos. The primal chaos.
Primal chaos gave birth to yin, yang and all things: 'One gave birth to two, two gave birth to three, and three gave birth to all things.'
With that knowledge, one could deduce how the wretch energy had now developed its own lifeform. One could also comprehend just how profound and rare such a lifeform would be.
If any energy was the essence of both life and death, then for energy itself to become alive meant that an entirely new cycle was brought into the balance. An entirely knew path was being cleared.
An entirely new 'dao' was birthed.
To further exacerbate the situation, that wretch energy lifeform was the equivalent of the entire inner region's quintessence.
If you still don't understand, worry not. Not everyone has the basic understanding of a ten year old. It simply means that the inner region had given birth to an entity within which it placed its own life. The Inner Region had, more or less, come to life.
That was a monumentally earth-shaking occurrence.
In his excitement, Yuan Zhen had began to contest Qi Zixie's soul for the wretch energy lifeform. He had been wary of offending her soul earlier, since it was much more powerful than his own, but he didn't care now.
Unfortunately, he had done just that. It took offense and lashed out at him. Azure light clashed with aquamarine mist in a heated battle of souls.
As for the lifeform, it was naively and innocently floating around after having taken the form of a cicada. Yuan Zhen looked at it with increased fervor-- a hint of greed, even.
Dividing his focus, he kept the azure light busy just long enough for him to leap toward the green cicada. When he was close enough, he called the mist, which had been holding back Qi Zixie's soul, to his side.
The mist instantly trapped that cicada, then pulled it into Yuan Zhen's body.
He had gotten extremely lucky. Not only was Qi Zixie's soul temporarily unable to use its full strength, but the cicada had lost its will to flee. When the inner region felt threatened and thus afraid, it gave birth to the cicada hoping it would be able to keep a part of itself alive.
However, it could not comprehend the complexity behind such an action. It was now an almost mindless existence. Its previous desire to flee and continue living had gone.
"With this, I take another step forward. Now, to the core region." With Qi Zixie in his arms and a glossy red in his eyes, Yuan Zhen calmly strode further into Bane-devil Grotto.